Editor's Note: How NPOs Saved Christmas
So this is Christmas. With all due props to John Lennon, that was the thought that wormed its way through my mind as I did some holiday shopping around Thanksgiving. Weary disenchantment dogged me early because, by mid-November, shoppers already were showing signs of the impatience, impoliteness and downright nastiness that inexplicably is characteristic of what should be the warmest of seasons.
Alas, Christmas was looking bleak, a sad testament to out-of-control consumerism — consumerism bedecked with tinsel and twinkling lights, but consumerism nonetheless.
And then magic erupted. Or maybe it’s more precise to say that magic wheedled its way into my psyche. It came in the hand of a little girl at the supermarket. In my sentimental mind’s eye, she was an angel, with wispy, golden hair forming a halo around her cherubic face. (In reality, she was probably a bawling toddler with a runny nose and Britney Spears T-shirt.) Her mother had put a small line of groceries onto the conveyor belt and paid with checks from the federal WIC program for low-income, nutritionally at-risk women and their children. When the cashier rang up the few non-WIC-eligible items, the shopper said, “Oh, wait ... add this in.” Then, to the child: “Give the lady the paper, Lucy.”
What Lucy handed over was a small orange coupon that her mother had detached from a display at the checkout counter, one that added an additional $3 to her order to benefit the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank. Despite my highly cynical state, that gesture felt like a mini-miracle of compassion that opened my eyes to the benevolence that was all around me. Suddenly, every shopping trip was soundtracked by the unmistakable ting-a-ling of the Salvation Army bell. I watched a convoy of decorated trucks pass with a mountain of toys en route to a radio station where Child Abuse Prevention Effort volunteers would ready them for distribution to kids in need of holiday kindness. I applauded when a group of teenage Scouts — urban kids with piercings and multi-hued mohawks — gave up a gorgeous day to serve meals to the elderly in conjunction with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
It all helped me to refine my own focus for the holidays and to buy the majority of my gifts from catalogs produced by nonprofit organizations: fantastical toys from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, greeting cards from the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and all sorts of things through www.igive.com, which lets you shop from stores that contribute a percentage of your sales to your charity of choice. I stopped just short of buying a llama for a poverty-stricken Latin American family in a friend’s name through Heifer International. Shopping like that, my expenditures did triple duty: The organizations made some money, and my friends got lovely gifts and an education about the charities’ missions. In some cases, the gifts kept on giving since some of the recipients adopted the organizations as their own.
Yes, Virginia, people did give this holiday season. Not just tokens, but they gave from their hearts and they gave of themselves. Which means that you — the heads of development and the staffs you inspire — are doing your job, and doing it well. And that your job makes a difference. That’s the thought I want to leave you with as we plunge into a new year rife with the exasperating and exhausting challenges that face the fundraising community: What you’re doing matters. Keep it up ... and Happy New Year!